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The Peripatetic Papers: Comparables and Audience

There is a good audience lately for novels and memoirs about undergoing a life-altering crisis (break up, divorce, illness, death) and having to “start all over again.” Catherine Goldhammer’s memoir Still Life With Chickens: Starting Over in a House by the Sea is typical of a genre which sates readers’ craving for stories about how other people endure what life dishes out.

Annis Pratt’s quirky marriage and commuting life style always fascinated people who couldn’t understand why and how she did it and were curious about what being a university professor was like. “My Wisconsin,” “Winter of the Commuting Professor,” and “Wrong Way to Indianapolis” in the first part of The Peripatetic Papers are humorous, diary-style accounts of her life as an English Professor commuting between Detroit and Wisconsin.

The baby boomer generation will be her principal audience, along with readers in their forties and thirties hungry for stories about how someone gets through what will (eventually) happen to them. For example, in “My Menopause,” the essay that is the turning point in her memoir, Pratt takes the “change of life” literally and rides the hormonal storms to a whole new life. Pratt’s prescience has been born out by the sudden popularity of books about understanding your hot flashes as power surges, like Beverly Mahone’s Whatever! A Baby Boomer’s Journey into Middle Age and Nancy Thayer’s The Hot Flash Club,. (see the New York Times for June 7, 2007).

Wondering about what life will be like after menopause? In the second part of The Peripatetic Papers PMZ (Post-Menopausal Zest) fuels you with fresh energy for all kinds of new adventures. And what if (God Forbid!) anything should happen to their partner or spouse? In Part Three, “Between Two Worlds” Pratt brings her wry humor to getting back into traveling as a widow. In one chapter, she  negotiates the transportation shut downs after 9/11 to catch a cross country train so she can welcome her granddaughter into the world.

Although Pratt’s crises are not (quite) as drastic as Suzy Becker’s in I Had Brain Surgery, What’s Your Excuse, her story takes her readers through unusual life experiences. Her travel destinations are not as exotic as Elizabeth Gilbert’s in Eat, Pray, Love: 108 Tales About One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia, but her travel writing, like Gilbert’s, is inward and philosophical at as well as outward and exploratory.

Pratt feels a lot better about her neck than Nora Ephron does about hers. In comic tone her Peripatetic Papers are closest to E.M. Delafield’s classic Provincial Lady series, perennially reissued by Academy Chicago Publishers.